Elnur Aslanov, Ph.D., is the chief of the department of political analysis and information provision, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
(Today's Zaman) - South Caucasus, 2010... Twenty-two years of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
For those who still do not know, it is a conflict revolving around the ancient Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh now occupied by Armenia. The conflict has turned more than 1 million people into refugees and caused enormous damage to regional economic development. Numerous potential economic and political projects that would have brought the South Caucasus closer to Europe have been sidelined. The South Caucasus has sunk into an abyss of conflict, the analysis of which has troubled the world's leading powers. All Azerbaijanis have been expelled from Armenia, while 20,000 Armenians still reside in Azerbaijan. Nationalist sentiments are growing constantly in both states. Mothers fear the beginning of war, while politicians calculate the risks.
But for what? For the sake of "the misguided initiative" of a certain political power that governs Armenia, a small South Caucasus republic of about 3 million people? Nobody can disagree that the principle of territorial integrity is a fundamental principle of international law. And surely no one can think that Nagorno-Karabakh will ever become an independent actor in international relations. So what is it all about? Is it not better to live in peace in your own country and enjoy all the boons and privileges bestowed by the social and economic development of a country rich in energy resources?
Today, the Karabakh Armenians have food for thought. Azerbaijan is a country of ancient traditions, at the heart of which lies tolerance. Historically we have proved this to be true, and it has often been used against us. We continued to live in peace with the Armenians even after the genocide of Azerbaijanis in March 1918. We continued to consider Baku an international city, despite the active resistance of the Armenian population to the declaration of Azerbaijani as the official language in the constitution of 1956. Prior to the onset of the conflict, an elite part of the city of Baku was even called "the Armenian settlement." We Azerbaijanis continued to see the events of 1988, when the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict began, as a misunderstanding and believed that fraternal people could not act like this. In 1988, when provocations by Armenian circles led to bloodshed in Azerbaijani cities such as Sumgayit, many of us believed that it would still be possible to change things. Years have passed, but irrationality has grown in Armenia.
Today, two decades later, a TV channel and a news agency in the Armenian language function in Azerbaijan. What about Armenia? The answer is obvious: none. We understand better that the South Caucasus is a common house, and we call on Armenia to renounce unconstructive politics and halt the pressure on their compatriots.
The Armenians of Karabakh would be happy to live in houses where there is light, warmth and amenities. They would like to enjoy the fine infrastructure that would open them up to the intensive economic development of Azerbaijan. Certainly, the Armenians of Karabakh dream of the social security system, public health services, education and other social benefits and advantages that are available to the residents of neighboring Azerbaijani cities. Moreover, the Armenians of Karabakh would be part of the social life of the country that they used to live in. What have the years of conflict given to those whose lives are in misery in Karabakh? Why do they agree with the aspirations of "outside forces" that prevent them realizing the ideal of living in peace in their own state, Azerbaijan?
Today Armenians live in Azerbaijan, while in Armenia there are no Azerbaijanis. There are citizens in Azerbaijan with Armenian surnames; there are none with Azerbaijani surnames in Armenia. We have proved that we are capable of living together despite war and loss, pain and sacrifice. Strangely enough, we have been tolerant of the people whose leadership has been waging war against us for our ancient lands for 22 years. The Armenians should now prove that they are capable of living together with us. The South Caucasus is a common house for the people settled there, and the time has come to realize this. Armenians moved to Karabakh a little more than two centuries ago, but we understand that for the Armenian families that have lived there for generations Karabakh has become a native place. However, the fact that Karabakh belongs to the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan should not be questioned.
Unfortunately, the Armenians of Karabakh fell hostage to the leaders of Armenia and the field commanders who served their own mercantile interests. War is money, and every Armenian in Karabakh should realize that by protracting the prompt resolution of the conflict, they line the pockets of war criminals. The military leadership understands full well that they will never achieve their purposes and continues to strain the situation by increasing the expenditure of an already scarce budget on the construction of various defense systems. They reiterate to the public the same theses that it would be possible to ensure public security only in the case of independence. Nevertheless, let us take a sober look. Nagorno-Karabakh, granted autonomy with comprehensive privileges of self-administration within Azerbaijan, will become a focus of international attention.
Undoubtedly, each step of the central authority, the leadership of Azerbaijan in Karabakh, will be closely watched by the international community. The nonsense that if the Armenians of Karabakh are part of Azerbaijan their lives will get worse or they will be forced to leave all the territories at once does not hold water. The superpowers will ensure security guarantees for the local population. Azerbaijan already put its signature to security guarantees for the Azerbaijani and Armenian populations of Nagorno-Karabakh in the resolution of the 1996 Lisbon Summit. Azerbaijan is willing to return its territories and refugees home through peaceful means and to turn Karabakh into a prosperous region. The population of this region can only benefit from this, be they Armenian or Azerbaijani.
It's time to face the truth. New prospects are opening up, so it is necessary to stand firm and thwart the pressure from outside, to decide to live in agreement and peace for the sake of future generations. What does the younger generation in Karabakh believe today? Fairy tales about "independence"? But where is the life worth living: education, pensions, public health services? It's time to decide who will live under what circumstances -- whether to continue to create more broken destinies, damaged lives and deprived families or to abstain from illusory pseudo-ideas that instill only enmity and hatred.
It's time to reconsider, but time is always pressing.